Health Break | Published July 7, 2008 | Written by Emma Smith, RN & Lauren Smith

Safe Summer Eating

For most Americans, the start of summer commonly marks the beginning of grilling season, when an estimated 7 billion hot dogs and approximately 14 billion hamburgers are consumed between Memorial Day and Labor Day annually. Because grilling is just one of several warm weather pastimes, we often forget about the threat of common food-borne illnesses that result from improperly handling or cooking our favorite meats and other summer dishes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 76 billion cases of food-borne illness each year in the United States. Though most only cause symptoms that last for a day or two, some cases could cause hospitalization and even death. Food-borne illnesses usually cause symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea, however, a food-borne illness is most easily diagnosed by laboratory testing. The most common types are Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Ecoli0157:H7.

The U.S. Food and Drug administration offers many tips for safe outdoor eating, including the proper handling and cooking of meat. Dont forget, the first step towards safe eating is hand washing, even when you are outdoors.

The following grilling guidelines will help to ensure that your family stays healthy this summer.

  • Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks evenly. Use the refrigerator for safethawing, or place sealed packages in a sink of warm water. You can use the microwave to thaw ifthe meat will be placed on the grill immediately after.
  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Never allow foods to marinate on the counter or outside. If amarinade or sauce is to be used on cooked food, set a portion aside. Do not reuse marinade thathas already been added to raw meat
  • Do not use plates or utensils previously used to hold raw meat for serving cooked meat
  • If you prefer to cook meat partially before grilling to reduce grilling time, do so right before putting the meat on the grill
  • Cooked meat should be kept hot until meal time by moving it to the side of the grill rack

Different kinds of meat require different cooking temperatures. You should use a food thermometer to help you determine when your meat is done.

  • Steaks and Roasts: beef, veal, and lamb- 145°F
  • Ground: pork, veal, beef, and lamb- 160°F
  • Poultry breasts and ground poultry- 165°F
  • Fin fish- 145°F, or until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
  • Shrimp, lobster, and crabs- the meat should be pearly and opaque
  • Clams, oysters and mussels- until the shells are open

Whether picnicking or barbecuing with the neighbors, it is important to manage food temperature during transportation.

  • Be sure to keep cold food cold. A cooler with ice or gel packs is sufficient. Try to limit the time the cooler is opened to maintain a temperature of 40°F or colder.
  • You might consider packing beverages in one cooler, and perishable food items in another.
  • Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while they are still frozen. Make sure that they are wrapped tightly in plastic so raw juices cannot contaminate cooked foods, or foods eaten raw, such as vegetables.

Food safety is not just important during the summer months. In fact, half of all Americans say that they grill outdoors year round. So whether you are grilling in the sun, or grilling in the snow, be sure to follow food safety guidelines so that you can enjoy the out-of-doors in good health.

Emma Smith, RN, and Lauren Smith, Mount Nittany Medical Center

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